Keeping Things Clean

Not a lot of time is spent in discussing cleanliness in many self-sufficiency texts except to say that it’s important to maintain the cleanliness of the animal enclosures to improve overall animal health and to reap the monetary benefits of doing so. It’s true, keeping the animal enclosures clean does provide these benefits. No matter what sort of animal is in your care, dog, cat, chicken, or rabbit, cleanliness is a requirement if you want to maintain their health. Unhealthy animals are a lot more expensive to keep and you won’t obtain much financial benefit from them.

A few texts will stress that animal cleanliness also produces happier animals. Animals tend not to express happiness or unhappiness in the same way that humans do. However, each of our animals does express happiness or displeasure in specific ways. Anyone can see these emotional conditions if they care to look. Animals do feel things and the need to be clean (after a certain manner) is a characteristic that they have in common with us.

However, I’ve never encountered a text that stresses that animals have a preference for being clean or that they even have the intellectual resources to determine the difference between clean and dirty. Over the years, we’ve worked hard to keep the environment our animals live in as clean as possible. During that time we’ve also noticed that the animals definitely have a desire to be clean and that they do, in fact, have the intelligence to tell the difference.

For example, one rabbit purposely chewed a hole in the side of it’s enclosure to gain access to the middle enclosure of a three rabbit hutch. It was only after I discovered an air leak in the side of the rabbit’s current enclosure and fixed the leak that the rabbit was happy to stay in the enclosure I chose for it. The rabbit was uncomfortable and determined a method for overcoming that discomfort. It’s method of addressing the problem showed a certain level of intelligence.

As another example, in cleaning the chicken’s nest box enclosure, some of the bedding gets tromped down, but is still dry and clean. We fluffed up the bedding and added a bit more to ensure the chickens comfort and to keep the eggs from breaking. Other bedding was soiled, and so we put it into the compost heap to decompose. New bedding was put in the nest boxes that had soiled bedding in them. The chickens unerringly chose the nest boxes with new bedding in which to lay their eggs. Since the chickens were outside in their run and didn’t see which nest boxes received the new bedding, we can only assume that they can smell or somehow see the difference between the new and old bedding. However, it’s important to note that they knew the difference and made a choice to use the new bedding, rather than the old, even though the old bedding is still clean and usable.

We had three cats at one point. One of the cats had become enfeebled due to old age and was sick. The other two cats would refuse to use the potty pan after the sick cat until we cleaned the potty pan up. The odor left behind by the sick cat signaled disease and the other two didn’t want to pick up. Even if the potty pan had just been cleaned, the other two would refuse to go into after the sick cat. The cats made a choice. Keeping your animal’s environment clean is, therefore, more than simply a matter of health or monetary gain. Animals are happier when you keep their environment clean and they do have the intelligence to make choices about their environment, given the chance to do so. That’s why it’s important that a pet carpet cleaner is always on hand for those pets who live inside. If they are sick or have an accident, it’s easy to use a carpet cleaner to just ensure that any stains or odors are removed from the area. This can benefit both owners and animals alike. Animals know when their environment isn’t up to par and you should too. Providing your animals with a clean environment is a responsibility that you should take seriously.

However, it’s also important to remember that animals don’t use human standards of cleanliness. The essentials are to keep the environment clean and comfortable. A rabbit or chicken is unlikely to want, need, or even accept room deodorizer or other human niceties in their environment. In fact, some human niceties (such as scents) are actually detrimental to animal health in some cases. Make sure you take an animal eye view of environment when you setup, maintain, and clean their equipment. Let me know your thoughts on animal environments at


Procedures in Technical Writing

A great technical book contains all sorts of content types because different readers learn in various ways. If everyone learned in the same way, technical books would be easier to write, albeit, a bit boring. Procedures are part of the hands-on content that turns a “how” book into a “how to” book. A how book simply shows how something is done. For example, you might see a coding example that shows how to perform a technique. However, unless you actually work with that technique, it’s unlikely that you’ll truly grasp the methodology behind it.

Writing good procedures that actually work is hard. I think the point was driven home to me at an early age by a teacher who seemed to have way too much fun in class. I learned quite a bit from her simply because she made learning fun. When it came time to write a procedure, she chose making toast, which seems to be a typical example. However, when it came time to check our procedure, we each handed our papers to another student who read them aloud while the instructor performed the steps precisely as written. Many of us forgot to mention taking the bread out of the wrapper, so she’d politely try to stuff the pieces, wrapping and all, into the toaster. It was a hoot, but also a great lesson.

All authors have an issue with assuming that the person viewing the procedure knows something that doesn’t appear in the write-up. The person ends up trying to stuff the bread into the toaster without taking it out of the wrapper first. Even though the example was quite humorous in that teacher’s classroom, in real life the omission of important material is frustrating for everyone because the author truly doesn’t understand why the reader is having a problem with the procedure. I’ve gone through the process myself—many times. As I’ve matured as an author, I’ve come to realize that I need to draw the answer to the problem with my procedure out of the reader without getting the reader any more frustrated than he or she is at the moment.

Good procedures, like good newspaper articles, answer who, what, where, when, why, and how. Even that requirement seems counterintuitive. Most authors seem quite pleased when they can accomplish the “how” part of the equation. The who part of the equation is often the hardest part of the procedure. Who is performing the task? It seems like an easy question to answer, but often I need to go back through a procedure and decide who is doing what and at what time. Doing something at the wrong time is often just as bad as not doing it at all. The question of where comes into play because modern computer systems have applications that interact with each other. Deciding where the person performing the procedure is at any given moment is essential to making the procedure work as expected.

Of all the questions though, the question of why is the easiest to answer, yet the most often missed. If a person does something like an automaton, there is no feeling of accomplishment—no sense of gratification. The reader goes through the motions without understanding anything about the procedure. As a result, the information doesn’t sink in and the reader is reduced to using the procedure precisely as written to perform only the task the procedure is designed to address. The best procedures answer the question of why so that the reader can use the procedure in various ways to address a wide range of problems that the author hadn’t even considered when writing the procedure.

Procedures are important. As a hands-on tool for interacting with the user, procedures present the opportunity for the author to extend the meaningful use of a book well beyond its intended purpose. An author truly can’t aspire to do more than that! Let me know your thoughts on writing procedures at


E-book Integration in Schools

I use every opportunity I can to track the change in how people read information. Some of this material is in articles, some comes from readers and friends, and some comes from just observing. For example, at one time people would grab a magazine from the rack at our doctor’s office. Now it’s quite likely that they’ll take out a Kindle or other reading device to view their favorite novel. Even at our library, I see people sitting in front of computers reading, rather than holding a book. Increasingly, I get questions from readers who use the e-book version of my books, instead of paper copies. Let’s just say that in the year and two months since I wrote The e-Book in Your Future, things have changed considerably. E-books are reducing the cost of reading material of every sort, especially technical books.

That’s the reason I’m a bit concerned about some of the things I read about our school system, especially when conversations with students tend to bear out the information I read. One ComputerWorld article in particular, “The e-book revolution is bypassing U.S. elementary schools” really grabbed my attention. The author, Joe Mohen, makes some astute comments about the benefits of using e-books in schools. As an author, I see significant benefits in using e-books, such as the ability to update the information as needed. Schools often struggle with outdated texts now due to a lack of funds, using e-books greatly reduces the cost of updates making it possible for schools to keep their texts updated.

More worrisome is the fact that most of our colleges still use paper texts. In talking with any number of students, I have yet to find any of them using more than one or two e-books for their classes. Given the high cost of education, it makes sense to reduce costs by providing students with materials in electronic format. A recent Forbes article, “Should College Students Be Forced To Buy E-Books?” makes a strong case for using e-books in colleges. The same article points out that only three percent of students currently use e-books for their education.

My interest in e-book technology isn’t just a passing fancy. Part of the reason I spend so much time delving into this issue is to discover how to serve you best. A large percentage of my readers are college students. What if my books were offered only in e-book format? Would you still buy them? For now, my books will continue to appear in both print and e-book format for the most part, but the time could come when I’m asked about how my readers would be affected if the publisher produced only e-books. To answer that question, I need your input. Let me know your thoughts about e-books, especially in the school environment, at